Under My Skin by A.E. Dooland

When was the last time a book hooked you so deeply you actually worried about the characters when you weren’t reading?

“I’m writing because I wish these stories had been available for me to read when I was dealing with some tough identity issues, and I want them to be available to other people who are struggling.” — A.E. Dooland

 

 

I found Under My Skin sort of by accident.  I was looking for fiction that featured nonbinary/transgender characters and I was drawn in by the fun, playful cover.  I have a weakness for sweet LGBTQ romance stories and that is what I expected here. (I did notice that the book is much longer than most romance novels, and that gave me a moment of pause.) By the time I realized that Under My Skin was a lot more than that — not the breezy lighthearted romance I expected — I was too in love to quit.

Fair warning:  This book disrupted my sleep cycle for several nights running.  I simply could not stop reading.  And it does have its breezy, wonderful romantic moments — a lot of them.  But they’re set in a story about the price of hiding who you really are (from the world and yourself) and the cost of coming out (to the world and to yourself.)

Ming Lee is a Korean/Australian woman living in Sydney.  She has a great job in the marketing department of an international mining corporation, a boyfriend who is almost too perfect, and a comfortable home that she loves.

But underneath the surface, she is restless and unsatisfied. She has extreme body issues, almost no social life, and has been drinking too much.  When she paints a portrait of herself as a man, it sets off a series of events that will change everything in her life.

Part of the power of this novel is the main character.  I was in love with Ming from the start — not just sympathetic or interested — head over heels in love.  Then comes her best friend at work, Sarah, her incredibly perceptive (except where it really counts) boyfriend Henry, and Bree — a troubled schoolgirl force of nature who finds Ming’s paintings on Deviant Art and storms into her life like a hurricane. All these characters quickly became friends that I cared about and rooted for.

And there are a couple I could really hate.

As Ming’s life spirals more and more out of control, there were parts of this novel so intense I had to put the book (ok, the e-reader) down — and then I just continued to worry about the characters and be anxious about what would happen to them until I went back.  It’s kind of a cliché to say a story made you laugh and cry, but this one did — and hit just about every emotion in between.

So, even though this is a long book, I never once felt bored or thought that it went on too long.  I didn’t want it to end.

Which is good because there are two more books in this series.  Flesh and Blood, which is a sequel, continuing Ming’s story, and Solve for ί, which deals with some of the supporting characters from Under My Skin.

I totally intend to read them both.  But I need to catch my breath for a moment first.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.